Vermont Horse-Assisted Therapy (VHAT)
In A Nutshell:
VHAT provides safe, effective and fun therapeutic riding experiences to children and adults with emotional, economic, mental or physical challenges.
Why They Rock:
- Provide ongoing classes to children with Autism teaching them everything with grooming, feeding, and riding.
- Offer instruction for those with certain paralyzed disabilities: a horse produces a three-dimensional movement pattern very similar to the movement of the human pelvis during normal, upright ambulation, or walking.
- VHAT receives NO government funds and relies on grants, fundraising events, individual and corporate donations.
The volunteer stars didn’t speak today, not a single word – their presence alone is therapeutic and they took their talents once step further and gave rides to kids living with Autism…horses were responsible for plastering the biggest smiles on I’ve seen on the tour – me included.
Today was double-awesome; AOLNews published a great article on the tour, and I was going to hang with horsies! Getting to Pease Farm to meet my friendly contacts Sarah and Susan was a challenge – the farm roads were like a wet cement Slip ‘n Slide, my Honda Element turned into a toboggan playing Plinko. Upon arrival I was greeted by Cinco and Oscar, two chill dogs who patrol the beautiful farm…you walk they follow – perfect side-kicks for the day.
I was thrown into farm chores immediately – Sarah and I took the tractor up the hillside and unhitched a snowblower which we traded for a wagon, and then back down to the stable where Susan got me friendly with a rake – I was the manure/hay/horse hair dominator…I transferred mounds of earth love to be used again in the farm’s compost.
Off to lunch 500 yards from the farm at Sarah’s house, a cozy cabin overlooking the mountains and she treated me to Vermont’s best cheese – Cabot! Months ago the kind staff at Cabot rewarded 40 philanthropists and myself to a cruise for our volunteerism efforts…I was selected for organizing a dance contest which included professional soccer players to benefit DC SCORES. We walked back to the farm with Cinco as our guard (you never know when a moose while charge), and I was lucky enough to gallop on the volunteer all-star horsie Molly.
After I finished jumping the entire Olympic Equestrian Course (okay, I was walked around with Sarah although my turning skills were on point – earlier street toboggan training came in handy). We kicked-off the afternoon with Autism riding….each kid helped prepare the horse for their ride in the rink (awesome indoor run): brush the coat, clean the hooves, and strap on the saddle. Autism has different degrees of severity and it was remarkable to see those kids disengaged during preparation completely transformed once they started to ride – their joy was contagious…all thanks to an animal.
Vermont hospitality was served in the quaint town of Middlebury with the gracious hosts Cyndy and Steve who provided a mini-New Zealand vacation…charming cottage house (renovated entire place), lamb stew, and flat whites (think of latte but way smoother). Both Steve and Cindy are part of my soccer family (borderline blood) – I grew up traveling the world playing real football with their son Dougie…next tour: volunteer for soccer non-profits on every continent!
It’s amazing an animal that weighs 1,000 pounds can provide so much joy and aid with physical improvements like eye and hand coordination. Reporters following the tour ask if am I am seeing positive outcomes from the tour…picture this: the horses enjoy being cleaned, kids enjoy riding the horses, and the staff (givers) enjoy watching the faces of happy kids on horses…give your life away to others – it will never be the same.
“Horses change lives. They give our young people confidence and self-esteem. They provide peace and tranquility to troubled souls. They give us hope!” Toni Robinson